When Derek Griffith was presented with the opportunity to climb into a winged Supermodified at Oxford Plains Speedway on the eve of the Oxford 250, he looked forward to something novel with which to turn his season’s misfortune around.
And his new ride was promptly run over by one of the track’s push trucks.
But Griffith shook off the rough start, driving to victory Saturday night in the fourth-ever race of the New England Supermodified Series.
The rising star from Hudson, N.H. has found little in the way of luck since being swept into a crash at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in April that left Griffith and team with a destroyed race car. Subsequent crashes at Jennerstown Speedway and Berlin Raceway have set the team back further, with Griffith borrowing a car from fellow racer Kate Re just to enter the weekend’s headlining Oxford 250.
With his Super Late Model schedule cut back, Griffith was able to try something different this May, racing a small-block Supermodified at a 350 SMAC feature at Hudson Speedway. In his first start in a Supermodified, Griffith finished fourth at his home track.
And the door was opened for Griffith to get behind the wheel of a more powerful machine at the legendary Maine oval.
Griffith’s entry was fielded by fellow New Hampshire racer Kenny White, Jr., who briefly raced in NASCAR’s Busch North Series in the late 1990s. Now committed to open-wheel racing, White is a staple of local Supermodified racing, competing for years at Star Speedway and racing full-time with the growing 350 SMAC tour. White has dabbled in big-block competition as well, making his International Supermodified Association (ISMA) debut in the 2020 Star Classic and fielding his Gangsta Racing #77 entry in select NESS shows.
Adding familiarity to the equation was the presence of Louie Mechalides, Griffith’s longtime car owner and crew chief, who provides engine support for White’s team and was on hand to help Griffith get around Oxford.
Saturday got off to a sketchy start for Griffith, though, when a push truck drove over the back of Griffith’s Supermodified heading out for practice. Undeterred, Griffith’s team straightened the crumpled wing atop the car and got him back on track. Griffith missed the first practice session, but shot to second on the time sheet after the second round and won the qualifying heat to set the field.
And just as he had dominated in the heat, Griffith did so again in the feature, leaving the field in the dust to lead the opening 30-lap stretch. A caution flag bunched up the field for a double-file restart, but Ben Seitz had nothing in the playbook for Griffith. Lapping the track almost two seconds faster than his Super Late Model, Griffith led from flag to flag to take the win in his first start.
Massachusetts open-wheel star Ben Seitz was second in the Vic Miller-owned Shea Concrete Products entry, with legendary racer Russ Wood finishing third. Rob Summers and Dan Bowes rounded out the top five.
Griffith’s victory was his first since a feature win at New Smyrna Speedway in February in an uncharacteristically challenging year. Costly car rebuilds on the short track side, coupled with the preparation for a multi-race deal in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, have kept Griffith from racing often, leaving far fewer bright spots to offset the bad ones. Even his Xfinity opportunity has not been free from misfortune; in July’s Crayon 200 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, mechanical troubles trapped Griffith two laps down by halfway. Griffith drove the car through traffic to run with the top-five cars in the closing laps, but was scored 18th at the end.
Anthony Nocella joined Griffith in performing double-duty with the Supermodifieds. The 2017 Modified Racing Series champ took the wheel of Howie Lane’s familiar #97 before taking to the track for the evening’s MRS feature.
Chartered in the offseason with support from the Pro All Stars Series, NESS was organized as an alternative for New England’s big-block Supermodified adherents to the New York-based ISMA. NESS promised not only reduced travel compared to the more distant destinations of ISMA, but cost savings to the cars that include a path to a big-block crate powerplant.
Parts shortages delayed NESS’ start until June, when Jon McKennedy dominated the inaugural series event at Vermont’s Thunder Road International Speedbowl. Summers drove to victory at White Mountain Motorsports Park in July, while McKennedy dominated the third round of the series last Wednesday at Seekonk Speedway.
With only one ISMA event scheduled in New England this year, September’s Star Classic at Star Speedway, NESS is poised to fill an essential gap for New England’s remaining Supermodified supporters.
Supermodified racing carries a sort of club atmosphere, with a coterie of purists and traditionalists devoted to keeping the discipline afloat. Griffith, an established Super Late Model winner with an eye to NASCAR’s national ranks, is an outsider to the Supermodified sphere. Oxford Plains Speedway is not atop the list of tracks Supermodified fans think of as home turf.
But through Griffith’s win, a lot of eyes experienced something new and something familiar all at the same time Saturday evening.
And that could help to maintain and even grow Supermodified racing in the long run.
Unofficial Results, NESS 50 at Oxford Plains Speedway:
1. (77) Derek Griffith
2. (11) Ben Seitz
3. (41) Russ Wood
4. (5) Rob Summers
5. (25) Dan Bowes
6. (97) Anthony Nocella
7. (51) Dave Duggan